Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Black lentils salad with red cabbage and ginger vinaigrette

These days, I am always on the run.
Having less time to spend in the kitchen, a better organization at home is required. 

I have to confess, though, that I am not used to plan a meal in advance, I consider myself a 'spontaneous cook', I sometimes create a recipe at the very last moment, with the ingredients I have easily at hand in our fridge or on our cupboard shelves.

The only tip I've found really useful so far is cooking grains, beans or vegetables in advance, and prepare whatever-the-dish with them, according to our seasonal cravings.

This week, it was salad: crunchy red cabbage, fresh chives, feta cheese and lentils. Black lentils.

'Lenticchie Beluga' as they call them, here in Italy.

The main source for this salad is a recipe I've recently pinned down in an old issue of 'Elle à table'. As for the vinaigrette I have to thank Coco, a great photographer and fantastic blogger, and her inspiring ideas and posts, this one in particular.

I've slightly adapted her recipe to my taste, you can stick to the original version though, and the result will be scrumptious, I am pretty sure of it.

Serve the salad with some roasted wholegrain bread or crackers, and you'll have a super natural and high-protein meal!

You can also veganize this recipe by leaving out the feta cheese and using rice syrup instead of honey.

Ingredients for the salad (serves 4):

red cabbage: 300 gr - 10,5 oz.- thinly sliced
black lentils: 100 gr - 1/2 cup - 3,5 oz.
feta cheese: 56 gr - 2 oz.
red onion: 30 gr - 1 oz. - thinly sliced
coarse salt: 1/2 tblsp

Ingredients for the vinaigrette:

extra virgin olive oil: 125 ml - 1/2 cup
white wine vinegar: 1 tblsp
honey: 1 tblsp
dijon mustard: 1 tblsp
fresh ginger: 1/2 half tblsp - grated
salt and pepper: to taste

For garnish:

fresh chives: 2 tablespoons - roughly chopped

Carefully wash the black lentils, rinse and drain them.

Bring water (2 cups at least) to a boil in a medium size saucepan, add the lentils. Reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes. Make sure the water doesn't boil down below the level of the lentils and add more if necessary. Add salt in about the last 15 minutes of cooking time. 

I like the lentils 'al dente' - not too soft - so if you want them more tender allow some extra cooking time. Once ready, sieve the lentils in a colander and let them cool down.

Meanwhile whisk together white wine vinegar, honey, dijon mustard, grated ginger and extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.

In a large bowl mix red cabbage with black lentils and red onion (you'd better slice it at the very last moment). Pour the vinagrette on the salad and let 'sit' for 10-15 minutes, then toss to coat and place into individual bowls or plates. Add bits of feta cheese - if you like so - and chives.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

"When effort is needed, effort will appear. When effortlessness becomes essential, it will assert itself. You need not push life about. Just flow with it and give yourself completely to the task of the present moment, which is the dying now to the now. For living is dying. Without death life cannot be."

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I Am That"

Monday, 12 March 2012

Celery root, leeks and almond cream soup

The weather has been playing tricks over the past two weeks.

Hot and sunny days unexpectedly broke the long siege of winter
and we experienced a glimpse of early summer.

We took off our coats, left our scarves and hats in wardrobe drawers and joyfully ran out of the house door to make the most of this exceptionally mild weather.

We knew it could not last long, though.
Temperatures dropped down again, and a greyish sky fell heavy on us.

I got a sneezing cold and reluctantly had to return to my winter clothes and routines, which include, of course, cooking comfort food - such as a cream soup - to warm myself up.

As I wrote in a previous post, soups are amongst my favourite dishes during this time of the year, and I always make some for dinner. The kind of soups my husband and I grew up eating (and probably rejecting as little kids): minestrone, pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta soup), pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas soup), passato di verdura (mashed/processed vegetables soup) tuscan ribollita and different kinds of vellutata (cream soup)

I like the term 'vellutata'. It comes from the italian word 'velluto' (in english, velvet). It perfectly conveys the idea of a smooth and soft texture.

A good vegetable broth and single – or double – cream are essential elements to get a perfect cream soup, as they provide this dish with that peculiar consistency that should be neither not too liquid, nor too thick.

I have always been intrigued by the idea of using vegetable milk instead of dairy cream in cooking this celery root and leeks vellutata. Browsing through different foodblogs and magazines I've found many excellent ideas, which include coconut milk amongst the ingredients, but we found it a little too sweet in flavour (beside the fact that my husband R. is a little bit conservative in his tastes), so this time I added a thick homemade almond milk to the soup, and enjoyed it pretty much.

We really loved this recipe, and I would appreciate to have a feedback from you; nonetheless feel free to experiment with other vegetable milk products (ever tried with oat milk cream??) or ingredients and let us know your preferences.

Ingredients for the soup (serves 3 to 4):

celery root: 260 gr / 9 oz – peeled and diced
leeks: 115 gr / 4 oz - sliced
onion: 85 gr / 3 oz - chopped
filtered warm water, or broth: 1000 ml / 4 cups
ginger powder: 1/2 tsp
nutmeg powder: 1/4 tsp
salt: to taste
extra virgin olive oil: 3 TBSP

Ingredients for the almond milk:

almond butter: 1 + 3/4 TBSP.
filtered water: 180 ml

for garnish:

flakes of roasted almonds: 1 TBSP
rosmary sprigs: 2

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add three teaspoons of raw vegetable stock (if you are using it) and ginger powder and cook for a couple of minutes. 

Reduce heat to medium low then add onion, leeks and celery root and cook until softened for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning the ingredients.
Add warm water (if you are using raw veg stock) - or broth (if you are not using it at all) to cover the vegetables, bring liquid to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat again, cover the pot with a lid, and cook for 20/30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile make the almond milk: whisk almond butter with cold water in a medium size bowl until you get a smooth almond milk.

Puree the vegetable soup in a blender, add almond milk and stir well. Season with salt and spices (nutmeg and pepper I would suggest) to taste.

Serve in individual bowls, garnish with rosemary sprigs and almonds.

Monday, 5 March 2012

"Lightly, child, lightly. You've got to learn to do everything lightly. Think lightly, act lightly, feel lightly. Yes, feel lightly, even though you're feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them."

Aldous Huxley, "Island"
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